Dr. Michael DeBakey, the renowned heart surgeon, received the Congressional Medal of Honor recently. He’s going to be a hundred years old this year, so apparently somebody figured they better get to it.
DeBakey isn’t the oldest person to receive the medal, though. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, received the honor in 2001 – when he was 142 years old. No one seemed too surprised that he didn’t show up. He hadn’t answered a single e-mail.
You might think that a career as robust and accomplished as Dr. DeBakey’s would be chronicled in a massive memoir – either a hefty biography (a life story written by someone else) or an autobiography (one written in a car). Surely a towering figure like him, who has just received the country’s highest civilian honor, would have found time to write about himself during his nearly century of life. But, in fact, you won’t find any such book about DeBakey – only a so-called online digital document that somebody else wrote. Digital documents are like books, but don’t carry the high risk of paper cuts.
The digital DeBakey life story is just 902 words long – about nine words for each year of his life. And that’s all. DeBakey did once write a book called “The Living Heart,” but it wasn’t about him. It was about how the heart works. Go figure.
I thought about this the other day when I saw a newspaper story about a public figure who is about to write a memoir: Miley Cyrus. You may not have heard of her (Miley being a girl’s name) if you were born earlier than, say, the 1990s. She stars in the Disney Channel series “Hannah Montana,” which up until recently I thought was a town just outside of Billings.
Ms. Cyrus signed a book deal a few days ago to tell the story of her life, and it won’t be a measly digital version like Dr. DeBakey’s document. It’ll be an honest-to-gosh, hardbound book, just like the kind Hemingway used to write so Ernestly. I don’t how many actual words will be in Miley Cyrus’s memoir, but I’ll bet it will be more than 902 – and maybe twice as many syllables. By the way, did I mention that Miley Cyrus is 15 years old?
Now some people – certainly not me – may think it’s a little silly for someone just 15 years old to write a memoir. On the other hand, maybe it’s smart to do it while the memories are easier to recall and not so much has happened yet. “(Long, long ago, when I was around 8 years old …”)
Miley’s dad is Billy Ray Cyrus, who once had a big country hit called “Achy, Breaky Heart,” which I guess ties this essay back to Dr. DeBakey in an accidental way. By the way, Billy Ray Cyrus’s followup song, “Teensy, Weensy Spleen,” wasn’t nearly so successful.
In all honesty, I guess I’m mostly envious of Miley Cyrus. Face it, even at just 15 years old, she’s had a life interesting and worthy enough to convince the people at Hyperion Books to publish her memoir. Truth be told, I tried writing a memoir of my own when I was 15, and I couldn’t get even a nibble from a publisher. Here’s an excerpt:
“Woke up this morning with a zit the size of a Volkswagen on the end of my nose. A red Volkswagen. With three flat tires.
“My sea monkeys finally arrived yesterday. They don’t look anything like real monkeys. I think the same company that I bought those lousy x-ray specs from has snookered me again. I’m really having second thoughts about ordering those alligator eggs.
“If I can make it through today, I’ll have achieved a personal best: Six days wearing the same underpants. Eight days is my goal. Don’t know if I’ll make it before mom begins to notice, but even she says I should try to follow my dreams.
“Gonna drop by Dave’s house after school. He found a Playboy in a dumpster, so we thought we’d look at that for a while. If there’s time afterward, we might study for tomorrow’s math exam.
“I am going to wrap this up for tonight. Dad is yelling at me from upstairs to turn off my light and go to sleep. So that’s it for now.
“Have turned light back on. I was just startled out of my sleep by a scratching noise coming from my closet. I’m 95 percent sure there is a killer hiding in there. No, wait! The scratching noise is actually coming from the next room, where my little brother sleeps. Whew! Now I can go back to sleep.”
My granddaughter turns one year old next month. She’ll start speaking her first words any day now, and as soon as does, she and I will sit down to start work on her memoir. It’d be nice to get it in the stores by Christmas.
Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org